Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians got some surprising news last week: executive director Henry Fogel informed their negotiating committee that he won’t be part of management’s bargaining team at the upcoming contract talks. Expected to be acting as lead negotiator for management at the talks, slated to begin in July for a new three-year contract that would go into effect in September, is CSO legal counsel Jim Holzhauer, who did not return a call to his office last week. Also representing management will be artistic administrator Martha Gilmer, operations department manager Vanessa Moss, and several others from a variety of departments. Also for the first time in recent memory, a CSO trustee is expected to be present at the bargaining table during key sessions, though CSO musicians were not told last week who that representative would be.
Fogel’s announcement struck CSO musicians as a peculiar development at the very least, and speculation as to his reasons was rampant. Late last week, as the orchestra prepared to leave on a tour of the east coast and Europe, Fogel issued a terse “no comment” when asked through a spokeswoman about his decision to sit out the talks. Trustees beyond the executive committee’s inner circle apparently weren’t informed of Fogel’s decision. “It’s like a Chinese fire drill over there [at Orchestra Hall] at the moment,” said one CSO trustee. CSO musician Steve Lester, a member of the musicians’ negotiating team, said only that “it’s going to make for a very different atmosphere at the bargaining table.”
By all accounts Fogel has made a point of positioning himself as the front man in all contract talks with players since he became executive director in 1985; he has even counseled other orchestras on contract negotiations. The first couple of CSO contract negotiations with Fogel at the helm went smoothly enough. But in 1991, on the eve of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary and the debut of new music director Daniel Barenboim, the talks exploded, primarily over the issue of health insurance. The musicians subsequently went out on a three-week strike, casting a pall over the orchestra’s anniversary celebration and raising questions in the minds of many observers about Fogel’s handling of the talks. The eventual settlement seemed to give orchestra members almost all of what they had been demanding before the strike.
No one seems to believe that Fogel’s latest move necessarily portends his imminent departure, though observers say he’s under a great deal of pressure on a number of fronts. He is trying to raise approximately $100 million for Orchestra Hall’s upcoming expansion and renovation, a project that has taken a number of twists and turns since its first incarnation, Fogel’s campaign several years ago for a new performing arts center to house both the CSO and Lyric Opera. In addition, he’s trying to balance the orchestra’s sizable annual budget and develop new audiences in the midst of continuing negative publicity over Daniel Barenboim. An article in last Sunday’s New York Times by Reader contributor Bryan Miller on the eve of the CSO’s arrival there once again found Fogel in the uncomfortable role of defending his selection of Barenboim to succeed Sir Georg Solti.
The musicians and their advisers also don’t believe that Fogel’s absence from the bargaining table means he won’t have a hand in any contract decisions. Notes Jim Greenfield, legal counsel for the musicians: “I suspect this change at the table will turn out to be cosmetic, and it’s likely Fogel still will be pulling the strings, just not directly.” Certainly Fogel’s absence could help defuse any tension that might be precipitated by memories of the last contract talks. But Lester believes that in the end Fogel’s decision not to join in the talks may be more harmful than helpful: “I am concerned because there need to be people on both sides of the bargaining table who have a close working knowledge of all that we are dealing with in these negotiations, and Fogel is the only person in management who has that.”
Ravinia Announces a Name Change–and a Fund Drive!
Call it pure coincidence or cunning calculation, but the Ravinia Festival’s board of trustees recently decided to rechristen the indoor theater on the festival grounds with its original name: the Ravinia Theatre. The 850-seat theater had been known since 1963 as the Murray Theatre, a name it had been given to honor former festival chairman Howell Murray, who presided over Ravinia from 1951 through 1958 and helped reopen the Ravinia Theatre after it had been dark for three decades. But according to Ravinia’s current executive director, Zarin Mehta, several trustees thought this was the appropriate time to restore the theater’s original name. Mehta also noted that the Ravinia Festival is in the middle of a drive to raise $15 million to be used primarily for improvements in the festival’s facilities. Asked whether the Ravinia Theatre might be renamed yet again if a contributor anted up an appropriately generous sum, Mehta noted: “That might happen. Anything is possible for the right price.”
Last week even casual readers of the Tribune’s gossip column “Inc.” had good reason to wonder if authors Dorothy Collin and Mike Conklin and their editors had fallen asleep at the wheel. Beneath the huge headline, “Pulitzer-winning ‘Angels in America’ set for a Chicago run,” the May 5 column read: “Chicago’s lively theater scene gets another boost with news soon that ‘Angels in America,’ the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tony Kushner currently in a lengthy Broadway run, is coming to the Royal George–probably right after Labor Day.” If you can believe it, this bit of “news” topped the column more than five weeks after Angels producers Robert Perkins and Rocco Landesman convened a press conference to announce that the play would begin previews on September 6. Chief critic Richard Christiansen’s story about the announcement ran directly adjacent to “Inc.” on March 30; on top of that, Perkins says he has lost count of how many full-page ads for the play have appeared in the Trib since the press conference. A Trib spokesman said the columnists report directly to managing editor Richard Ciccone; Ciccone had no comment about the item, and Trib editor in chief Howard Tyner was on vacation. But the Angels item and the recent dearth of showbiz-related dish in the column are almost certainly a result of the decision to replace the departed Kathy O’Malley with former sportswriter Conklin.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Tappin.